Three By Laumer by Keith Laumer (book review)

July 30, 2017 | By | Reply More

I did think ‘Three By Laumer’ was an odd choice for a book title until I checked and back in 1967, he had a book out called ‘Nine By Laumer’. I read some of Keith Laumer’s ‘Retief’ books in my youth from the library and found him to be a writer with buccaneer playfulness. If anything, it’s more amazing that Gollancz hasn’t re-released his books earlier than this or even in their ‘SF Masterworks’ series.

This book contains the opening books of three of his series: ‘Worlds Of The Imperium’ (1962); ‘Retief: Envoy To New Worlds’ (1963) and ‘Bolo’ (1976).

‘Worlds Of The Imperium’ is about Brion Bayard. Abducted from his own reality and convinced to masquerade as himself in another where he is a dictator. The plan is for him to turn that version of the Earth around. Of course, nothing is that simple and he runs into an underground movement and discovers members of the Imperium aren’t always what they seem. Even saying that much is giving things away. I should point out that Bayard was a reluctant party at the beginning but after an attack at the Imperium enjoyed the rush. Reading it now, it’s hard to believe it was written in 1962 when alternative realities living side-by-side was something new.

Not to unusual for its day, short stories were bulked into anthologies, and second level consul James Retief had his first group under ‘Envoy To New Worlds’ showing forms of diplomacy to resolve problems amongst colonists and alien species that his bosses would disapprove up in all but results. The diplomatic corps Refief belonged to are turgid, don’t like travelling much and have rules and methods that even they don’t look at. All fitting for a man who wants to rise through the ranks. Not much different to today really if you think about it. Retief is one of Laumer’s most remembered characters, assuming you’ve heard of him and you will certainly want to read more after this volume. Something I discovered when doing some research is the source of Retief as a name. Write it backwards.

The ‘Bolo’ of the third book is actually a term for a military tank and the opening describes its history into the near future where they are more than fully automated but short of being A.I.. Nevertheless they maintain their formidability. Jackson wakes up in a post-war period after a few years and finds himself prisoner of a former pal who needs him to by-pass the security of a Bolo. Unlike the other stories in this book, ‘Bolo’ is practically a novella at over 80 pages.

Oddly, we are then back to one of Retief stories. Hardly surprising that there is a mention of a Bolo in ‘Envoy To New Worlds’ but it also brings the stories into a common reality. This story was written thirteen years after Laumer first wrote about Retief but is still effective, especially as the consul treads over red tape to solve problems.

The final stories could have been better sorted in order, more so as the model number of each Bolo is given but this is a reprint and probably kept the way they were first presented. The focus is mostly after the wars these Bolos were involved in and them waking up, a couple have limited artificial intelligence. They might have limited power but still potentially dangerous. Although not as effective as the Retief stories, Laumer is an effective character writer and knows how to make you turn the page to see what happens next.

Keith Laumer (1925-1993) is an SF author that really should be read if you haven’t come across him before. If anything, I’m surprised he’s been outside of Science Fiction attention for so long but great to see some of his material back in print.

GF Willmetts

July 2017

(pub: Gollancz. 500 page small enlarged paperback. Price: £14.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-473-215990-3)

check out websites: www.orionbooks.co.uk and www.gollancz.com

Category: Books, Scifi

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About the Author ()

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 15 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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